Hi, I’m Amy Simms and, if you don’t know me yet, let me fill you in. I’m CEO of a multimillion dollar, multinational corporation specializing in leveraged buyouts when I am not busy moonlighting as a crime-solving super sleuth. Okay, a slight exaggeration. There are no millions (unless I win the lottery-fingers crossed!), and the only thing multinational about my business are the few products I import. The last thing I leveraged was the trowel I used to remove a rock from the hole I was digging to plant a beautyberry bush. And super sleuth? Well, I have stumbled upon a dead body or two here in the Town of Ruby Lake. Not that I wanted to. Never my fault. I like to think I helped bring a killer or three to justice, not that our chief of police, Jerry Kennedy, would agree with that statement or ever thank me. I believe his less than appreciative attitude towards me has something to do with that one date we had in high school.
The truth is, I own a small retail store catering to the bird, bee and bloom loving crowd, aptly called Birds & Bees. You love birds, bees and blooms don’t you? Sure you do. So come on in and say hello, buy a little bag of birdseed to take home and feed the birds in your yard. Who couldn’t use a little birdseed in their life?
My employees are my mom, my best friend and a crotchety septuagenarian I like to call Esther the Pester. She prefers to be called Ms. Pilaster or just plain Esther. Personally, I think Esther the Pester has a nice ring to it, but why quibble? Esther was already living in the house when I bought it. She has a lease so we’re stuck with each other. She did once accuse me of murder in front of the police no less, but I’ve made my peace with that. Why? Like I said, she has a lease. Besides, I was standing in my own house with bloody weapon in my hands. I couldn’t blame Esther for jumping to the wrong conclusion.
It is summertime now in Ruby Lake, a real jewel of a town, nestled in western North Carolina. This is peak tourist time, if not peak bird watching time. Like most locales, we get our biggest numbers of birds in the spring and fall migrations. Not that there isn’t plenty of avian activity the rest of the year. There is. On a regular basis, I spot bluebirds, titmice, goldfinches, house finches, mockingbirds, cardinals (North Carolina’s state bird) and more. And that’s without ever lifting my binoculars to my eyes! Then there are the special treats. Like now, for instance. The front yard is aflutter with summer birds, including a dozen or more ruby-throated hummingbirds.
Birds & Bees occupies the first floor of an old Queen Anne Victorian (is there such a thing as a new Queen Anne Victorian?) located on Lake Shore Drive, our town’s main road. The second floor is occupied by Esther and another renter. My mother and I take up the top floor. I normally open the store at nine. Prior to that, Mom and I breakfast upstairs.
Next, I head downstairs. After making sure the store is shipshape, I step outside to check the bird feeders and refill them as necessary. That’s not as quick and simple as it sounds. I’ve got two hanging tube feeders, a hopper feeder, a bell feeder, a thistle sock and birdbaths galore. I rinse the basins out and top them up with fresh water every morning with the garden hose. If you want to attract birds to your yard, you need more than food sources. You need plenty of close-by shelter and fresh water, so there is always some gardening to do too.
In the winter, I also hang a couple of suet cages. If you aren’t familiar with suet, those cages aren’t for capturing the occasional wild suet, they’re for hanging suet cakes, which I generally only put out in the coldest months. Held together with such gooey delights as peanut butter and lard, the stuff tends to melt when it’s warm. Besides, there’s lots of other summertime food available for the birds. The neighborhood woodpeckers love suet although other, such as chickadees and nuthatches, seem equally fond of it.
I’m delighted today to see so many hummingbirds in the yard and not just because all the feeding and bathing birds warms my heart (okay, it attracts customers to our store, too) but my friend and former college professor, a real mentor of sorts when it comes to birds, is coming to town today. His name is Professor Mason Livingston and he is a world-class expert on hummingbirds. In fact, Mason is on a tour promoting his latest book, Hummingbirds and Their Habits. My friend Rose Smith and her daughter, Amber, will be hosting the book signing at Bookarama, our local bookstore.
Good friends, good books, cute little birdies…what could go wrong? Surely not murder. I mean, not again. Right?
You can read more about Amy in To Kill a Hummingbird, the fourth book in the “Bird Lover’s” mystery series.
For Amy Simms, owner of Birds & Bees, nothing is more important than impressing her old professor, but this odd bird is about to fall to earth . . .
When her favorite ornithology professor comes calling, Birds & Bees owner Amy Simms hangs six hummingbird feeders around the shop to welcome Professor Livingston with a flock of his favorite flying creatures. But Amy soon finds that the sugar water in the feeders brings more than a swarm of hummingbirds. It also attracts murder.
Professor Livingston is just as friendly as Amy remembers, but something seems to be troubling him. When Amy pays him a visit that night, she finds the professor slumped over a table with a pair of scissors buried in his neck. And standing over his body is Rose Smith, the local bookseller, who claims she killed him. But while the police believe they have a bird in hand, Amy thinks the real killer may still be in the bush . . .
# # # # # # # # # # #
Meet the author
J.R. Ripley is the critically acclaimed author of multiple series and currently pens A Bird Lover’s Mystery Series, the Maggie Miller Mysteries and the Kitty Karlyle gourmet pet chef mysteries. J.R. is a member of the American Birding Association, the American Bird Conservancy, and is an Audubon Ambassador with the National Audubon Society. Before becoming a full-time author, J.R. worked at a multitude of jobs including: archaeologist, cook, factory worker, copywriter, technical writer, editor, musician, entrepreneur and window washer. You may visit jrripley.net for more information or visit JR on Facebook.
All comments are welcomed.